Shaping our digital future


  • Opinion by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana (bangkok, thailand)
  • Inter Press Service

Bridging these divides and ensuring that technological advances benefit all will be a major challenge as the region strives for a more inclusive and sustainable recovery after the pandemic. A new ESCAP report, Asia-Pacific Digital Transformation Report 2022: Shaping our digital future, identifies five key “digital divides”; fault lines that separate those who can easily benefit from new technology from those who are more likely to be left behind. These differences are related to age, gender, education, disability and geography.

Usually, those who are most comfortable with technological innovation are younger and more educated people who grew up with the Internet as “digital natives.” The elderly may be more distrustful, slower in acquiring the necessary skills, or suffer from reduced aptitude. But at any age, poor communities – especially those in rural areas – are most at risk because they may not be able to afford electricity, digital connections or have the relevant skills, even if the necessary infrastructure and connectivity are in place.

The main driver of digital transformation is business research and the development and application of groundbreaking technologies. Another important component is e-government; the provision of public information and services via the internet or other digital means. This has the potential for more efficient and inclusive operations; especially when linked to national digital ID systems. However, as eGovernment services often evolve in complex regulatory environments, it has become more challenging to provide appropriate levels of accessibility for older generations, the disabled or those with limited education.

It is clear that digital technologies enable the delivery of previously unimaginable services, while improving productivity and optimizing the use of resources, reducing greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions. These technologies also helped track and limit the spread of pandemics. Social networks promote and diversify communication between people of all ages who share common interests, regardless of location. This helps them stay in touch, broaden their experiences, retrain or deepen their expertise. This provided a real lifeline that continues as we move into the post-pandemic era.

At the same time, the risks have also increased. Social networks also created social “echo chambers” and generated torrents of misinformation and hate speech. New cryptocurrencies have paved the way for speculative financial bubbles, while cybercrime has increased alarmingly as it took on wide variations. In addition, digital gadgets and the internet are believed to contribute to more than 2 percent of the global carbon footprint. The manufacture of electronic hardware can also deplete natural resources such as rare earth elements and precious metals such as cobalt and lithium.

Moreover, digital transformation has led to the creation of a huge amount of digital data that is becoming an essential resource to understand digital transformation. However, it raises concerns about the ethical and responsible use of data for privacy protection. A common understanding between countries on the operationalization of such principles has yet to develop.

The Asia-Pacific Digital Transformation Report 2022 stresses the importance of digital connectivity infrastructure as ‘meta-infrastructure’. 5G and other high-speed networks can make all other infrastructure – such as electricity transportation and distribution – much smarter, optimizing the use of resources for sustainable development. To address these needs, the report recommends three non-exclusive paths of action, aligned with the ESCAP Action Plan of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway Initiative for 2022-2026.

The first track focuses on the supply side and provides relevant policy practices for the development of cost-effective network infrastructure. The second focuses on the demand side and recommends capacity building programs and policies to promote the widespread adoption of new, more affordable and accessible digital products and services. The third is to improve systems and institutions related to the collection, aggregation and analysis of data in a way that builds public trust and increases policy makers’ understanding of the drivers of digital transformation.

Finally, in a world where digital data can flash around the world in the blink of an eye, the report highlights the importance of regional and global cooperation. Only by working together can countries ensure that these technological breakthroughs benefit everyone; their peoples, economies and societies, as well as for the natural environment, in our new “digital standard” normal.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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